The bid to bring soccer’s World Cup back to North America in 2026 was hatched in a Vancouver restaurant, announced in a New York City skyscraper and scrutinized by FIFA inspectors inside Mexico City’s cavernous Azteca stadium.
It was sold in countless other cities Jakarta and Bangkok, Copenhagen and Lisbon, Jidda and Johannesburg by officials from the United States, Mexico and Canada soccer federations who had teamed up in an unprecedented effort to share the world’s most-watched sporting event.
And on Wednesday in Moscow, the campaign finally ended when voters persuaded by promises of record crowds, record revenues and, perhaps crucially, a record $11 billion in profit for FIFA, world soccer’s governing body awarded the hosting rights to the 2026 World Cup to a combined bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada. The three countries will bring the tournament to North America for the first time since 1994, with the majority of the matches, including the final, being held in the United States.
The North American bid routed its only challenger, Morocco, by a vote of 134 to 65, after which members of the winning delegation leapt out of their seats to embrace one another, pump their fists and celebrate the end of a frenzied few weeks of final lobbying.
Carlos Cordeiro, the president of U.S. Soccer, wiped away tears before making a short speech in which, with his voice trembling, he thanked FIFA’s membership for “the incredible privilege” of hosting the World Cup.
“It was a very emotional moment for everyone,” Cordeiro said later, recalling the devastation he felt in 2010 when the United States failed to secure the right to stage the 2022 World Cup, losing to Qatar in a much-criticized voting process.
The 2026 tournament will be one of firsts. It will be the first time the World Cup is hosted by three countries, the first time it has a 48-team format (up from 32 teams), and Wednesday’s vote was the first of its kind to be decided by FIFA’s entire membership. Of the tournament’s 80 matches, 10 will be in Canada, 10 in Mexico and 60 in the United States including the final, which will take place at MetLife Stadium in the New York City suburb of East Rutherford, N.J.
The last time the men’s World Cup was held in North America was when the United States hosted it in 1994. It was held in Mexico in 1970 and 1986, and Canada has never hosted. It was unclear Wednesday whether all three nations would be granted automatic bids into the field, as is customary for the host nation; FIFA said there had been no final decision on the matter.
Leaders of the North American bid had been on the road since April, visiting voting nations around the globe. As the race entered its final stages, several top officials and bid staff members relocated to London, deeming it a better base camp from which to visit far-flung federations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and southern Africa. At one point two weeks ago, Cordeiro and his staff traveled from Europe to Bangkok for a single meeting, returning the next day.
The extensive lobbying bid leaders estimated they had met 150 of FIFA’s 211 federation presidents in person paid off. The North Americans rode to victory on a wave of support from the Americas, Europe and Asia, plus a few votes poached from Africa, whose regional soccer president, Ahmed Ahmed, issued a bombastic plea to his members on Tuesday urging them to vote for Morocco as a symbol of African unity.
“From a few days ago, we always had a clear path to victory,” Cordeiro said. Still, even he could not have anticipated some of the support that the North Americans ended up receiving, notably a vote from Russia.
After the months of meetings and arm-twisting, the hundreds of airline flights and the weeks in ever-changing hotels, a campaign that began last August when Morocco jumped into the race (on the final day countries could do so), ended in an instant: with a 15-second note and a brief announcement by the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, that the combined bid had prevailed.
Moments later, and just a few hours after Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, had welcomed the world to celebrate the 2018 World Cup, the North American soccer leaders took to the same stage to tell the world to celebrate with them in 2026.
The victory spared U.S. Soccer a second stunning defeat in less than a year; the United States men’s team is missing the World Cup this summer, its first absence since 1986. The American federation spent more than $6 million out of a combined budget of about $8 million to bring the World Cup back to North America, the culmination of an idea set in motion in a restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia, seven years ago, according to Victor Montagliani, the head of Concacaf, the region’s governing body for soccer.
As delegates surged to congratulate the winners on Wednesday, Montagliani took a deep breath to consider the journey that had secured soccer’s biggest prize. He said he had conceived the plan while he was head of Canadian soccer, and managed to persuade Sunil Gulati, then the U.S. soccer president, to join in a potential joint offer after Canada staged a successful Women’s World Cup in 2015. Gulati, who was replaced by Cordeiro in February after declining to run for re-election, first secured the support of the chairman of the influential Mexican television channel Televisa, Emilio Azcárraga, and finally brought the Mexican soccer federation on board.
“I was so nervous sitting up there because you don’t have control over anything,” said Montagliani, who was seated on a raised dais with FIFA’s senior membership as the decision was announced Wednesday. “It’s like your little baby.”
The North Americans had offered FIFA’s member associations a ready-made World Cup; the 23 stadiums they suggested are all built, as is most of the infrastructure the expanded 48-team tournament will need: training sites, hotels, airports, rail lines.
And, like Morocco, the North Americans also had the full support of their governments. The nations’ so-called United Bid was a rare topic on which the presidents of the three countries found common cause, and the United States government, including President Trump, had mounted a stealthy shadow campaign to try to win over FIFA and its member federations.
The North American bid’s signature selling point, however, was delivered in a language FIFA members long have understood: revenue. The North Americans promised FIFA an $11 billion profit a staggering sum that could mean tens of millions of dollars in development funds for each national association.
Morocco, which pledged a profit less than half as large as its rivals, criticized the focus on money over soccer until the bitter end.
“The United Bid is proposing an offer that is mainly a business proposal for football,” one Moroccan official, Moncef Belkhayat, said Monday. “Their offer is based on dollars, on profit, while Morocco is offering an offer that is based on passion for football.”
After the defeat, African officials gathered around their president, Ahmed, as he scanned the list of countries that did not vote for Morocco.
“We are hurting,” said Daniel Amokachi, a Nigerian former soccer player who had worked as an ambassador for the Moroccan bid. “You look at the countries from your continent that didn’t vote and you have blood Arab countries that supported a different nation. That’s where it hurts more.”
Yet there were serious concerns about Morocco’s candidacy from the beginning, notably how the North African nation could cope with the massive undertaking of hosting the first 48-team World Cup. It would have needed to spend billions of dollars to build nine stadiums and to significantly renovate five others, and do it all in eight years four fewer than the 12 FIFA gave to Qatar, which still has not finished the job of getting ready for the 2022 World Cup.
Then there were the hotels, the highways, the rail links and the facilities to host a tournament set to bring more than 1,100 players and millions of fans to North Africa; all would have needed to be built, at a cost of billions more.
Morocco, which has now lost five efforts to stage the tournament, vowed to press ahead and build the projects it presented to voters. “We managed this bid with a sporting spirit and we will continue our path in the same vein,” said Moulay Hafid Elalamy, its millionaire bid chairman.
The final result was far more emphatic than it may have appeared in the last-gasp votes that played into the early hours of Wednesday morning. At one point, both bid teams arrived at the hotel housing Asian delegates shortly before 1 a.m., as rumors began to spread that the Moroccans might have gained some ground. The rumors were fueled by an announcement late Tuesday by the Netherlands soccer federation that it would back Morocco, contrary to what officials had told the North Americans as recently as last week.
The victory will also be celebrated privately by FIFA’s leadership, which had given indications it preferred the surety and the billions to come by taking the tournament back to North America. A technical report, which Infantino, FIFA’s president, repeatedly told voters to read, scored the winning bid far higher than Morocco’s offer, which FIFA inspectors said had several high risk factors. Infantino’s No. 2, Fatma Samoura, issued the same reminder just before voting began.
Infantino, who announced his plans to stand for a second term at an election next year, has been on a drive to raise the funds he needs to make good on promises to drastically increase the amount of funding he can deliver to national soccer federations, the only voting constituency in the presidential election.
Cordeiro said the Americans also spoke to members about how a World Cup hosted by the North Americans would lead to a cash windfall for everyone. In Scandinavia last month, he said each federation could get as much as an extra $50 million should the 2026 World Cup meet its $11 billion profit target. “Let that sink in,” he told them. By Wednesday, it was clear the message had been heard loud and clear.
Source: NY Times